Early education and care professionals play a crucial role in shaping the future of children. As such, it’s important to engage in continuous learning and professional development. One essential aspect of this is critical reflection. In this article, we’ll explore what critical reflection is, its importance in early education and different models to consider in your critical reflection practice.
What is critical reflection?
The critical reflection process involves deep analysis and evaluation of experiences and actions to gain new insights and knowledge. It goes beyond thinking about what happened and delves into understanding why it happened and how things could have been done differently.
Jannelle Gallagher, CELA Early Education Specialist, explains that critical reflection is different from reflective practice.
“Critical reflection takes reflective practice to a different level beyond where educators unpack their own practices with certain aims or goals in mind,” says Jannelle. “Critical reflection is a meaning–making process that involves deeper thinking, analysis, and evaluation of the effectiveness of planning and implementation of the curriculum and the impact on children's learning, and well-being.”
The importance of critical reflection in early education
The importance of critical reflection is highlighted in the updated Early Years Learning Framework V2.0. The term is embedded in all areas of the document, appearing 24 times, a stark contrast with the EYLF 2009 version where the term appeared only three times.
By asking questions, considering multiple perspectives, and identifying areas for improvement, critical reflection empowers educators to grow both personally and professionally. It supports a deeper understanding of beliefs, values, and biases, and how these factors influence their interactions with children, families, and colleagues. Educators can use critical reflection to develop strategies to enhance their practice and provide more responsive and individualised support to children.
The process takes the educators on a journey led by their own curiosities and wonderings where pedagogical decision-making has a transformative impact on future practices,” explains Jannelle. “Educators who engage in critical reflection challenge practices that contribute to inequities or discrimination. They demonstrate an understanding of each child’s learning, development, and well-being.
Different models of critical reflection
One widely recognised model of critical reflection is Gibbs' reflective cycle, which involves six stages: Description of the experience, feelings about the experience, evaluation of the experience, analysis of the experience, conclusion and action plan, and reflection on the process. It encourages educators to reflect on their experiences, identify emotions, critically evaluate actions, analyse the situation, draw conclusions, and create action plans for improvement.
Another prominent model is Kolb's experiential learning cycle. It emphasises the idea that learning is a cyclical process that involves four stages:
Concrete experience: In this stage, learners engage in direct experiences or activities that serve as the foundation for learning.
Reflective observation: Learners reflect on their experiences and observe what they have encountered, identifying patterns, connections, and personal insights.
Abstract conceptualisation: Based on their observations and reflections, learners develop abstract concepts, theories, or frameworks that help them understand and make sense of their experiences.
Active experimentation: Learners apply their new understanding and concepts by actively testing them in practical or real-world situations. This stage allows for further learning through trial and error, feedback, and adjustment.
A third model is Borton's model of reflection. This model involves three key questions:
Educators reflect on the experience (What?), explore the significance and implications (So what?), and determine the next steps or changes needed (Now what?). It encourages a deeper understanding of experiences and the implementation of meaningful changes in practice.
Using the Planning Cycle to reflect
Prior to joining CELA, Jannelle was a preschool director. She recalls an instance where her team used The Planning Cycle as a framework to delve deeper into their practices, known truths and beliefs.
“Two of the children brought to our attention the idea of privacy in the bathroom,” she explains. “What resulted was a two-year project deeply exploring children’s ideas, families’ and educators’ perceptions and unpacking the intent and understanding of the legislation. This resulted in a $120,000 bathroom and toilet redevelopment.1
“Our practices were critiqued and analysed, internally and externally. Together we planned and implemented a curriculum plan which echoed children’s voices. Our children, families, and team of educators were involved in an ongoing cycle of review.”
The new EYLF V2.0 discusses the notion of a robust culture of critical reflection that supports educators to question established practices and question why they work the way they do with children.
When an environment offers an opportunity for educators to engage in deep pedagogical thinking, they are empowered and committed to their own professional development. This translates into collaboration with peers to develop capabilities and new practices resulting in high-quality early childhood education for children.
Training and support
CELA Webinar: How the Exceeding Themes Influence Your Practices
CELA Webinar: Demystifying Critical Reflection
Amplify!: How we made our Exceeding Themes present on assessment day
Amplify!: A reflection on reframing inclusive early education
1. Jannelle Gallagher and Zsuzsa Millei (May 2012). Opening Spaces for Dialogue and Re-Envisioning Children’s Bathroom in a Preschool: Practitioner Research with Children on a Sensitive and Neglected Area of Concern